Talk to a Tokyoite about "downtown" (下町 shitamachi), and he will think of the Taito district: the train station of Ueno, where migrants from the deep north first arrived in their search for a better life, and the temples of Asakusa, once a boomtown full of prostitutes and gangsters but now long since past its prime. Stuck in a low-rent post-war time warp, here Japan's hypermodernity takes a bit of a breather, with such quaint oddities as bustling street markets and even the occasional wooden house.
Ueno Station is the major hub, connecting together northbound Shinkansen passengers with the JR Yamanote line, the subway Ginza and Hibiya lines, and the Keisei trains to Narita.
If visiting Tokyo University in Bunkyo, the Hongō Sanchōme Stations of the Marunouchi and Ōedo subway lines are the most convenient.
- Asakusa, covered in a separate article, known particularly for Sensō-ji Temple (Asakusa Kannon).
- Ueno, covered in a separate article, packed full of museums and Tokyo's best-known cherry blossom viewing spot.
1 Asakura Museum of Sculpture (朝倉彫塑館 Asakura-chōsōkan), 7-18-10 Yanaka, ☎ . Closed M and F. Not a "museum" in any traditional sense of the word, this is the former custom-designed residence of scholar and sculptor Fumio Asakura. Built around a lovely garden and packed with art, this is a wonderful place to stroll and contemplate the meaning of life. ¥500 adultes, minors 300¥.
Shitamachi Museum Annex (下町風俗資料館付設展示場, shitamachifū-shiryōkan-fusetsu-tenjijō), 2-10-6 Ueno-Sakuragi, ☎ . 9:30AM4:30PM, closed M, and Tu following a holiday. Many buildings scattered around the Yanaka district survived the bombings of World War II, including this former sake store built in 1910. Characteristic of Meiji-era architecture, the building now houses a small museum of sake and beer equipment. Free.
SCAI The Bathhouse, Kashiwayu-Ato 6-1-23 Yanaka. Closed Su, M, holidays. A small gallery showing the work of contemporary artists, the building is a former sento, or bathhouse.
2 Former Iwasaki Family House and garden (旧岩崎邸庭園, Kyū-Iwasaki-tei Teien), 1-3-45, Ikenohata (On a side street between Ueno Park and Tokyo University Hospital. Look for small blue directional signs). Not a major tourist attraction, but an interesting bit of history. The house was built in the Meiji era in the style of an American or British mansion. In WWII the fire raids consumed most of the houses behind the mansion, which was used by GHQ during the occupation. A few attached Japanese-style rooms remain. Sit and sip green tea. The garden--mostly lawn and trees--is of no great interest.
Yanaka (谷中), Nezu (根津) and Sendagi (千駄木) are adjacent low-key commercial and residential neighborhoods full of traditional, quirky little shops, particularly along the very tongue-in-cheek Yanaka Ginza (谷中銀座, ) shopping street. The area is best reached on the Metro Chiyoda line to Sendagi or the JR Yamanote Line to Nippori.
Chaho Kanekichi-en (茶舗金吉園), Yanaka 3-11-10. An old-school tea shop near the entrance to Yanaka Ginza, just follow the smell of roasting tea. They prepare their own blends, which are uniformly excellent: try the slightly bitter Snow Plum (雪の梅 Yuki-no-Ume, ¥600 per 100g) or the unusual Yanaka Midori (谷中みどり, ¥600-1000 per 100g), a mix of roasted tea stems (the cheapest tea) with tea-ceremony grade matcha (the most expensive tea). Ask to see the private garden and if they're in a good mood they just might let you have a peek.
Gotō no Ame (後藤の飴). Closed Wednesdays. A traditional Japanese candy (ame) shop at the very end of Yanaka Ginza, everything sold here is made on premises and quite cheap (¥100+).
Aoi Marushin, 1-4-4 Asakusa, ☎ . Tempura, Tempura, Tempura. Aoi Marushin is the largest tempura restaurant in Tokyo!
Bentenyama Miyakozushi Souhonten, 2-1-16 Asakusa, ☎ . This is a very small, very expensive sushi restaurant in Taito. If you are a sushi buff this is that place for you, with fantastic sushi and great ambiance.
Zakuro, 3-14-13 Nishi-Nippori (3 min directly west of JR Nippori North Exit), ☎ . Located in the heart of the traditional Yanaka neighborhood, this Persian/Turkish restaurant goes all-out on the "dining experience": you sit on the carpeted floor, they make you wear middle-eastern garb, and dessert includes a hookah (water-pipe) to puff on! And all the while, the owner wanders from table to table making wisecracks in Japanese. The set dinner course (¥2000) is guaranteed to leave anyone stuffed.
Remnants of the water trade
Why is there so much cheap lodging near Minaji-Senju and Minowa? The answer is the quiet nearby neighborhood of Senzoku 4-chōme, once the legendary red-light district of Yoshiwara, the sole licensed area for pleasures of the flesh during the Edo era. At its peak, Yoshiwara was home and prison to over 9,000 prostitutes, many of whom had been sold into debt bondage when as young as 7, and with only the most successful managing to buy their way out. Thrice wiped out by a fire in 1913, an earthquake in 1923 and Allied bombing in 1944-45, Yoshiwara finally gave up the ghost when prostitution was outlawed in 1958. Some low-rent soaplands still struggle on, but by and large the action has long since shifted elsewhere.
Taito has Tokyo's best range of cheap to midrange accommodation. The listings below cover only more far-flung bits of the district, see Asakusa and Ueno for listings of hotels in the immediate vicinity of the two central stations.
The area around Minami-Senju (南千住), near the northern end of the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, has some of Tokyo's cheapest budget accommodations. The typical room is an individual tatami flat of 2 square-meters, with television and air-conditioning. The bedding is Japanese style (futon set and pillow). All hotels listed here cater regularly to backpackers and have some English ability. Just hop out at Minami-Senju and walk down south towards Meiji-Dori (Main road) on Route 464. The further away from the train station you walk the cheaper it gets. About 3,500¥ down to 2,100 for single, also 1,500¥ for dorms are available all along this street (Route 464).
2 Juyoh Hotel, 2-15-3 Kiyokawa (10 min walk south from Minami-senju Station), ☎ , fax: . Very nice cheap hotel, prices ranging from ¥3200 for a single (¥2980 with a discount coupon printable from their web page, includes cleaning service every other day) to ¥6400 for a double (¥5960 with coupon). Internet access available in the lobby, five PC's and Macs available; wireless and ethernet support for laptops.
4 Tokyo Backpackers (東京バックパッカーズ), 2-26-13 Nihonzutsumi, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 4PM-9PM, check-out: 11AM. Clean and modern considering the low price. No lockers in the rooms, and only very small ones available in the hallway. Other valuables can be left with reception. Free wifi and a TV in the lobby, as well as a shower room, kitchen and coin laundry. The hostel is closed (guests must leave) every day from 11AM to 4PM. Dorms ¥2200.
6 Annex Katsutaro Ryokan (アネックス勝太郎旅館), 3-8-4 Yanaka (near Sendagi Metro Exit 2 - from the top of the stairs turn left, cross Shinobazu-dori just past Lawson's and continue straight for 50 more meters; or from Nippori station follow Yanaka Ginza to the end and turn left), ☎ , fax: . Smallish Japanese-style tatami rooms with en suite bathrooms and A/C in a modern (2001) 3-story building (elevator available) on a quiet residential street. English spoken. WiFi; free use of computer in the lobby; coin washer/drier (ask for detergent at front desk). 1 person ¥6300, 2 people ¥10,500.
7 Sawanoya Ryokan (旅館 澤の屋), 2-3-11 Yanaka,Taito-Ku,Tokyo, 110-0001 (7 min walk from Nezu station no 1 exit, 10 min taxi from Ueno station or 25-30 minute walk), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Well-known and popular ryokan, all rooms Japanese style with tatami floors. 2 rooms with bath, the 10 others share two Japanese-style baths and showers. Good neighborhood to simply wander and look at the houses and gardens. Free internet and LAN points in all rooms. Coin operated laundry. Really friendly helpful staff. Closed 29 Dec-3 Jan. Quote from book by owner "I stay here not because it is cheap but because it is friendly". Single ¥4935-5250 without bathroom, double ¥9240/9870 without/with bath, triple ¥12600/14175 without/with bath.
[dead link]Weekly Nippori Center (ウィークリーセンター日暮里), 3-2-12 Yanaka (8 min. walk from JR Nippori Station and 3 mins from Sendagi Station on the Chiyoda Line), ☎ . From ¥3700 for single to ¥7800 for triple.
|Routes through Taito|
|Nagano ← Takasaki ← Kumagaya ←||N S||→ Tokyo/Chiyoda|
|Niigata ← Takasaki ← Kumagaya ←||N S||→ Tokyo/Chiyoda|
|Sendai ← Nasu Shiobara ← Utsunomiya ←||N S||→ Tokyo/Chiyoda|
|Ōmiya ← Urawa ← Akabane ←||N S||→ Tokyo/Chiyoda|
|Tokyo/Shibuya ← Tokyo/Chiyoda ←||W E||→ Tokyo/Sumida → Chiba|
|Iwaki ← Mito← Kashiwa ←||N S||→ END|
|END ←||W E||→ Keisei Funabashi → Narita|
|Tsukuba ← Kashiwa ← Misato ←||W S||→ END|
|END ←||N S||→ Honcho → into → Ginza|